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Want a ride in an autonomous car? Try Lyft or Uber

Lyft and Uber both gave up on developing their own self-driving cars, but the ride-hailing networks are still proving instrumental in rolling out driverless technology.

Why it matters: Both companies are starting to blend others' robotaxis into their ride-hailing fleets in multiple cities.

  • That means your best chance of riding in an autonomous vehicle in the near-term could be with Uber or Lyft.
  • As autonomous cars pick up fares, they'll learn how best to drive alongside human motorists — insights that could help accelerate wider deployment.

Driving the news: Uber just announced a 10-year deal with Motional, a Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture, to deploy robotaxis in its network "in cities across the U.S., with the first trips expected to start later this year," the company says.

  • You can already hail a Motional robotaxi via Lyft in Las Vegas.
  • Lyft also offers robotaxi service in Austin and Miami Beach in partnership with a different AV company, Argo AI.
  • For now, these vehicles are operating with backup safety drivers. But they could be fully driverless within a year or two.

The big picture: Other AV developers — notably Waymo, Cruise and Zoox — are building proprietary robotaxi networks, which means their challenge is doubly hard.

  • Not only do they need to master self-driving technology, they also have to build the software to run a complex ride-sharing platform.

Where it stands: Waymo and Cruise are the farthest along in that journey.

  • Waymo has been offering a driverless taxi service called Waymo One in the Phoenix area since 2020. It's testing a similar service in San Francisco.
  • Cruise's San Francisco robotaxi service is fully driverless during overnight hours (when traffic is lighter). It's planning to expand to Phoenix and Austin soon.
  • Zoox, meanwhile, is seeking a permit to test-drive its robotaxi in California.

The catch: All these operations are limited to certain pre-mapped neighborhoods, under ideal conditions.

  • In other words, riders might not always be able to get where they want to go in a robotaxi.

That's where Lyft and Uber see an advantage over those AV startups. By feathering robotaxis into their already popular networks, they can ensure the customer always has a ride — whether it's autonomous or not.

  • In such a hybrid network, riders can be offered driverless cars when it makes sense and a traditional vehicle for other trips.
  • Using data insights from established ride-hailing networks will also help operators know where and when to have AVs available, which will ultimately lead to better service, the companies say.

What they're saying: Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer uses the analogy of a wireless carrier providing phone service.

  • "Imagine joining a network like Verizon, where you could make a call 1 out of 10 times," he told Axios in a recent interview. "And then imagine joining Lyft, where you can get a ride 10 out of 10 times, and one of those times might be in an autonomous vehicle."
  • Akshay Jaising, Motional's vice president of commercialization, says it makes sense to partner with ride-sharing networks for now.
  • "As a customer, you want to go to one app to get from point A to point B, and you want all the options you need to get there," he said in an interview with TechCrunch.
  • "It also gives us a little bit more runway as the technology matures. Initially, we expect smaller deployments. As we mature, you will have larger scale, and you'll be able to sell more routes."

What to watch: Uber, which already uses Motional AVs for Uber Eats deliveries in California, has yet to say where its robotaxis will be available.

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